April 18, 2011

The Nature Conservancy calls for killing 1 million birds, innumerable bats

A paper in PloS One by Nature Conservancy researchers describes how almost half of the more than 12,000,000 acres (19,305 square miles; 50,000 square kilometers) estimated by the Department of Energy to be required for 241 gigawatts of wind power as part of its plan of 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 can be erected on "disturbed" land. Disturbed land includes croplands, hay and pasture lands, surface mines, and urban development.

Unfortunately, although the paper provides estimates of the total acreage of each of these, it does not provide how much wind development on each that they recommend, only the total. Since strip mining and mountaintop removal do not to a large extent exist in the high-wind states that the paper recommends focusing on, and urban/suburban areas are off-limits to giant wind turbines owing to health and safety concerns, The Nature Conservancy is apparently recommending that sprawling wind turbine facilities be primarily erected in the plains states on crop and pasture land. Which is already where development is focused.

That still leaves more than half, almost 7,000,000 acres (10,425 square miles; 27,000 square kilometers) to be developed on undisturbed land, i.e., in wild areas. How The Nature Conservancy can dare to call this scenario a "win-win for wind and wildlife" beggars belief.

These estimates are based on capacity factor assumptions ranging from 38% to 53%, the latter figure being exactly twice the actual average figure for wind turbines in the U.S. So the actual land area (before the adjustments described below) would be a total of 20,400,000 acres (31,875 square miles; 82,556 square kilometers): more than 8,500,000 acres (13,281 square miles; 34,398 square kilometers) on farms and ranches and almost 11,900,000 acres (18,594 square miles; 48,158 square kilometers) in wilderness.

Their discussion of the study's limitations acknowledges the need for new (high-voltage) transmission lines (but they ignore the impact of heavy-duty roads, as well as the need for new thermal generation to balance and back up the wind energy) and their ignoring of the aerial impact on birds, bats, and insects: "In particular, birds require migratory stopover sites, and these may occur along rivers, wetlands, or playa lakes that are embedded within heavily disturbed agricultural landscapes. Second, even terrestrial species may require migratory corridors through disturbed areas to access undisturbed habitat."

The authors note that "mitigation measures, such as feathering blades (which stops their rotation) or reducing operations during lower winds speeds when bat mortality is known to be high ... could reduce bat mortality independent of where wind energy is sited; micrositing of turbines can reduce bird mortality". These measures, of course, would require even more wind turbines to be erected to make up for the loss.

So ultimately they must resort to the craven comparison to other causes of bird deaths by human activity, as if adding 1,000,000 more (ignoring wind power's unique and devastating toll on bats and the larger proportion of raptor deaths) is thus absolved. In addition, they appeal to the imperative of combating climate change, that we have to kill more birds and bats to save them, without examining the premise that wind energy contributes to that battle to any meaningful degree.

This is only a "win-win" for developers and The Nature Conservancy's donations from them.

See also:
"Environmentalism Against the Gods"
"How Green Became the Color of Money"

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights